Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stand Your Ground Task Force to Hold Public Meeting in Miami

Stand Your Ground Task Force to Hold Public Meeting in Miami 
by José Pérez

The American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws will hold a public hearing tonight at HistoryMiami in downtown Miami from 6 to 8 p.m.   The final stop in a five city national tour that started at the beginning of this year, the task force is meeting in Miami to examine the impacts of Stand Your Ground laws in the region.   The event is free and open to the public.

The task force first convened almost a year ago to research and study Stand Your Ground laws.  Topics of discussion will explore the impact of Stand Your Ground laws on public safety as a whole as well as the impact on minorities and marginalized constituencies such as battered women.   The task force will also examine the impact of these controversial laws on law enforcement and policing and facilitate conversations about the legislative and policy points of view of the Stand Your Ground laws.

The ABA task force sessions began in Dallas in February, and were held in Chicago in May and Philadelphia in June.    Leigh-Ann A. Buchanan, Co-Chair ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws and President-elect of Miami’s Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association, is enthusiastic about the work done so far by the task force in each of its previous stops as well as the positive attention it has garnered so far.   For example, Buchanan said that it was “really exciting” to have the most recent task force meeting, which was held in San Francisco this past August, broadcast nationally on C-Span.  

Organizers have assembled a formidable panel that Buchanan said are all “experts from diverse perspectives” for its final stop on the tour.   Among the people confirmed as panelists are Florida State Senators Dwight  Bullard, David Simmons, and Chris Smith; Edward Shohat, vice chair of the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board; Ciara Taylor, political director for the Dream Defenders; Guy Robinson, chief assistant public defender, Miami Dade Public Defender's office; H.Scott Fingerhut, Florida International University School of Law;  Marwan Porter, Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr. Bar Association; Aziza Naa-Kaa Botchway, Miami-Dade Chapter of the National Congress of Black Women; Caroline Bettinger-López, the Human Rights Clinic, University of Miami School of Law (which presented a paper on the relationship between domestic violence, gun laws and Stand Your Ground to the United Nations); Commander Ervens Ford, Miami Police Department; and Chris Davis, investigative editor for the Tampa Bay Times.

Also, members of the general public who wish to testify before the task force may contact Rachel Patrick of the ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, which convened the task force, at either (312) 988-5408 or via email at  Press materials released by the ABA indicate that “testimony may be given in person or in writing.”

Buchanan said that the open nature of the hearings are “an opportunity for the community to learn about the Stand Your Ground laws and to provide their own individual perspectives on this issue.”

Buchanan describes the task force and its work as “a comprehensive assessment of Stand Your Ground.”  She added that the Stand Your Ground task force is “primarily concerned with the expansion on the protections afforded as to the use of deadly force in self-defense in the public areas.”  In other words, the task force has been focusing on how the Stand Your Ground Laws, which used to be referred to derisively in the 1980’s as “Make My Day” laws, have expanded the so-called Castle Doctrine.  

The Castle Doctrine has long held that a person has an implied right to defend him- or herself within one’s home. Experts worry that Stand Your Ground laws essentially stretch to expressly expand the reach of the doctrine to include public spaces such as sidewalks or parks.

Currently, there are as many as 25 jurisdictions that have legalized Stand Your Ground plus other states whose common laws have Stand Your Ground principles that have not yet been codified formally into law.

Dr. John Roman, who is the Executive Director of the District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute, has worked with the task force, he said, “to help lead the data analysis.” Specifically, Roman’s work has focused on the extent to which Stand Your Ground laws lead to changes in racial disparities that impact how homicides are justified.

Roman pulled FBI data on every homicide in the United States from 2005 to 2010, a total that was in excess of 70,000 cases.  The FBI information contains facts about age, race, whether or not the shooter and victim(s) knew each other, if the shooter or the victim was a law enforcement office, et cetera.  Ruling out instances where the shooter’s identity was unknown (e.g. unsolved murder cases), Roman looked at “different combinations” between the ethnicity of the shooter and victim.  His research, which was published in May of 2012, found that in instances when the shooter was black and the victim was white, only 1% of the shootings were deemed “justifiable” while occasions when the shooter was white and the victim was black were “ten times as likely” to be ruled “justifiable.”

The task force’s findings are due to be released in early 2014 with the final written report expected by that spring.

*To read this article as it appeared in the South Florida Times, please click on this urlink.